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Preview: 3-D Space Shuttle Movie Will Bring the Launch Pad to Your Living Room | Wired Science on Astini News


If you missed the final launch of the Space Shuttle, or the first private spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station, fear not. A new documentary to be released late this year promises you a fiery, 3-D, launch-pad view of these historic flights.

A preview (above) of the film, Space Shuttle & The New Pioneers, was unveiled at the SETICON II conference June 22 in Santa Clara, California. The film chronicles the final days of the Space Shuttle program, from inside NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

But since executive producer David Knight felt he "couldn't end the movie by saying 12,000 people were laid off," the film also follows the beginnings of the private space flight boom, as companies like SpaceX blast up to orbit.

The movie's makers are crowdsourcing some of their funding through the website Kickstarter until June 30. The film, planned for limited theatrical release, will be available on 3-D Blu-ray, as well as 2-D high-definition DVD, and will be provided for free to educational institutions, in the hopes of exciting kids about science and technology. Wired talked with Knight at SETICON about the film and the future of manned spaceflight.

Wired: Why did you decide to make this movie?

David Knight: When we started, it was a notion that somebody ought to cover the last missions of the space shuttle program. There had been many, many documentaries that tell you what the space shuttle is and about the astronauts and the crews, but nobody was covering the end of the space shuttle program and why it was ending. It wasn't a simple answer, like Congress forgot the money. And what comes after it? It turns out a plethora of things are coming after it that aren't just what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is doing.

Early in the process I found myself standing underneath the Shuttle Discovery with Charles Bolden, the head of NASA, and I realized that there couldn't be a more important mission than getting young people excited about science and technology.

Wired: How did you first get involved in the spaceflight scene?

Knight: Back in 2003, I was visiting my parents and my brother had brought a stack of magazines. There was a copy of Wired, and on the cover was this crazy bug-eyed looking machine — a thing called SpaceShipOne, developed by the famous aircraft designer Burt Rutan. Burt Rutan was building this using financing from the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. And they were going to compete for the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Three weeks later I found myself sitting on a jet with X Prize founder Peter Diamandis. I stopped working on the nascent tech venture I was about to start and decided I was going to join these X Prize guys.

Standing next to SpaceShipOne right after it returned from space — when the engine was still crackling — is a spectacular memory. Roll forward a number of years. Again I found myself standing by the countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, about to watch the big one, the space shuttle. And next thing you know, I've decided to drop everything and make The Movie About the Space Shuttle.

Wired: You said nobody else was making this film. Why do you think that was?

David Knight: The people I asked told me, "Well, all the shuttle stuff's been done." And I said, "It hasn't."

Wired: Why did you choose to make the movie in 3-D?

Knight: I got to meet James Cameron and he told me something extremely valuable: He said, it's not that much more costly now to do things in 3-D, by filming two side-by-side high quality images. You're filming historic events. These things are never going to happen again so why don't you record them using redundant technology?

Wired: Who else was involved in making this movie with you?

Knight: James Cameron had this person that was sort of his right arm, named Haley Jackson. When I decided I was going to get into film production, I said, "May I borrow you to go to a space shuttle launch?" Another person who got involved is Buzz Hays, who at the time was the senior VP of technology at Sony Pictures and developed their 3-D technology center.

Wired: You started off wanting to make this iconic film about the end of the shuttle program, and at some point, it evolved into "what's coming next."

Knight: Yeah, I realized that we couldn't end the movie with "12,000 people were laid off." It just wasn't going to be a happy ending. Look at all the cool stuff that people are doing. So we sort of called it "the hopeful future," which includes all these amazing people that are taking their deep fortunes and spending them on building spacecraft. "Hopeful future" was a bit wishy-washy sounding, so I eventually decided to call these people "the new pioneers." I thought about calling them the "new mavericks," but I didn't want them to be confused with Tom Cruise in "Top Gun."

When you start looking at the panoply of spaceflight, it's actually humongous. I said, let's just talk about the new pioneers that are doing orbital spaceflight with the possibility of putting people up there.

Wired: Your movie has footage from a camera on the space shuttle's boosters. Is that in 3-D?

Knight: That's called RocketCam. We're going to take some of it and dimensionalize it (make it into 3-D). We actually have talked to NASA about putting a stereoscopic RocketCam on there, but it would probably cost all the money we've ever spent on this collectively to put another RocketCam on the outside surface of an object that can go 18,000 miles an hour.

Wired:  You were able to get pretty exclusive access to some events, such as the first two SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches. How did you convince them to let you film?

Knight: I knew people. They just sort of called me a 'contractor.' When I got to the third launch, where Dragon capsule docked with the space station, they opened it up. And there were hundreds of reporters and photographers.

Wired: What do you still have left to do on the film?

Knight: This summer, we're going to be filming the interviews. We filmed all the stuff that's never going to happen again: launches, landings, that kind of stuff. And now we're going into the phase that's a lot calmer.

Wired: Is this a one-off project, or are you going to keep documenting it?

Knight: There are a lot of people saying, Why don't you make a sequel called "The New Pioneers?" Why not? There's so much still coming. It's going to take a few years before SpaceX can realistically start sending humans up there. As that approaches, it's going to be really exciting.

Wired: How do you see the future of orbital human spaceflight?

Knight: Here's an analogy: What do you need to build a hotel? You need materials, and you need big trucks and construction equipment. In order to build the International Space Station, we needed a "truck" — and that's the space shuttle. When the hotel opens, you don't see trucks in front — you don't need them. What's in front, once the hotel opens? Taxis, private cars, limousines. So now we're switching to [private] vehicles — a SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Soyuz capsule out of Russia.

What came out of the X-prize flights of SpaceShipOne in 2004 is that Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan built SpaceShipTwo, which is a lot bigger, and about 500 people have booked to go on it.

Wired: Are you planning to go up on SpaceShipTwo?

Knight:  I am. It'll probably be years away because there are so many people in front of me.

One thing I think is super interesting is something Paul Allen is doing with Burt Rutan and SpaceX, which is Stratolaunch. A gigantic version of SpaceShipTwo, it will be the biggest airplane in history. The way SpaceShipTwo works is that you lift the flying machine up to a high altitude and then you turn it on and go. SpaceX is going to build the rocket that hangs from the giant machine. That would literally have the effect on spaceflight that Moore's law and Intel did on the evolution of microprocessors: It would be an order of magnitude cheaper. And that's in our film.

Wired: What about luxury spaceflight?

Knight: Bob Bigelow (of Bigelow Aerospace) is now building big inflatable hotels that compact into the nose of a SpaceX rocket. And there have been a handful of "space tourists" who have spent a minimum fee of $20 million to train for six months in Russia and live for a week on the Space Station.

Wired: How has making this movie affected your view of manned spaceflight? Are you more pessimistic or optimistic now?

Knight: I've never diminished my optimism for private space flight. In the beginning I think I had a typical perspective on the [end of] the space shuttle program: What's wrong with those people? Now there's Elon Musk. SpaceX is the "Wild Wild West." I've been in so many startup companies, I immediately recognized that vibe. It's just like, "Get 'er done."

Wired: So in this movie, you want to inspire people about the process of getting up there?

Knight: You can't just have the ability, you have to have the fuel: money. So, anything that helps the public and eventually legislators understand what this is all about is really helpful. I think one of the reasons we didn't see Congress fund an obvious next step after the shuttle program is that nobody was really telling them about it.

The NASA party line is, We're now going to leave low-Earth orbit to private enterprise and the other partners in the station. NASA will now focus on its two primary missions. One is deep space exploration using robotic machines, including the new Mars rover and Voyager I. And the other is manned space missions. The mission is, first we're going to go land on an asteroid, and after that, we're going to Mars. Elon wants to go to Mars, NASA wants to go to Mars, President Obama wants to go to Mars, everybody wants to go to Mars!

Video: Terbine Entertainment.


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